Deputy Murphy suggests that wages should be adjusted. They have been adjusted from time to time. Under the Forestry Division practically all workers are members of trade unions and I think this matter should be left to the unions concerned who are quite capable of dealing with it. They are in negotiation on these issues with my Department at present.
When Deputies say that the price of land acquired for forestry purposes is too low, let them remember that in the vast majority of cases the transactions are voluntary. Practically 99 per cent. of the acquisitions have been on that basis and the people who are selling the type of land coming to the Forestry Division are, in my view, the best judges of their own business. This is a costly operation from the State's point of view and the economics of the whole question must be considered. Of course the price of land is one of the fundamentals in assessing the whole forestry programme and its expenses.
It is correct to say that in some places there has been some slowness on the acquisition side. The reason for that is very simply the fact that the Department was not geared for the job and the programme now being carried out and which has been carried out for some years past. There was, I know, a time-lag between inspections and offers in certain areas. That is now being eliminated and the complaints of time-lags of two or three years between offers and acceptances will, I hope, now be a thing of the past.
In some cases, it is true that there was also a considerable time-lag in the acquisition machine on the title side. We have endeavoured to clear up that bottleneck also, and in commonages where small amounts are involved, a very simple procedure is prescribed. The Chief State Solicitor has now been directed to dispense with the charge on equities in dealing with titles of this kind, and to accept statutory declarations as to occupancy over a short period of years. I am now satisfied that that bottleneck has been relieved on the title side, and that the long and frustrating delays that formerly occurred in their elaborate investigations of title, where comparatively insignificant sums of money were concerned, have been dispensed with. This also will have an overall effect in quickening the acquisition machine, and that is very necessary in view of the tremendous amount of land that now must come in, in order to maintain the national programme.
I cannot accept what Deputy Murphy had to say about the employment of forestry workers. In forestry, as in every other business, the forester must be allowed to exercise his discretion to accept what he considers the most suitable type of worker. I know that we all should like to see a system whereby the man with the highest rate of unemployment assistance is taken on first but sometimes, unfortunately, it turns out that he may not be the most suitable type of worker. That can happen.
I believe, however, that, in the main, there is satisfaction with the method of employment. There will be the odd case where hardship may occur, but, generally speaking, they try at least to take the men from the highest dole level from the employment exchange. If they find them satisfactory, they try to maintain them, just like in every other type of business or undertaking but if, after trial, men are found to be unsuitable, and if the labour force is being reduced, the people with the highest output or the best workers are naturally kept on. Indeed, since the incentive bonus scheme was adopted, this system is more intensified because men now just are not prepared to carry what I would call an inefficient man on their team. It affects their earnings as a whole, and they themselves more or less select the gang to work with them, once they are established at a forest.
On the question of employment, it has been mentioned here, although some cases may create hardship, that it is desirable that constant employment should be provided for a certain labour force. I think it is undesirable, if it can at all be avoided, that there should be perhaps 50 men working a forest for four or five months, and then a lot of them laid off. It is far better by planting planning and work preparation planning to have constant and continuous employment for a force of perhaps one-third or one-half the number.
It is also true that in this work the men acquire skills as they go ahead and the best opportunity and the best prospects of providing more constant and continuous employment are for the Department to endeavour to build up a large plantable reserve that allows them to plan ahead. That is good economics and it is good for continuity of employment. I believe that if we are to get to the stage whereat we shall have a reasonable plantable reserve, there will probably be less complaints such as we have in the House from time to time about letting off men in particular areas. Of course, men cannot be kept on if they cannot be gainfully employed in forestry, as in any other business.
The question of the quality of land was also raised by Deputy MacCarthy. I think I have already dealt with that matter. I have not, however, dealt with the question raised by that Deputy, and a number of others, including the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach, that is, the question of pressure on the Forestry Section to give bits and pieces of land to local farmers. This is a question on which I have received a considerable amount of representation, and about which I have been under a certain amount of pressure since I came into the Department.
Let me make it clear that, generally speaking, it is not the job of the Forestry Section to relieve congestion, That is the job of the Land Commission. While it is natural to expect that where a State Department has land in any particular area, if some of it adjoins the land of local farmers, they would be anxious to get it, I believe, however, that is a trend which must be generally resisted by my Department. It is, as I have said, difficult to maintain the intake of land which is needed for the national programme. I have also said that when a considerable block of land comes to the Forestry Section, there is an assessment of that land between the Land Commission and the Forestry Section as to its uses, and the agricultural portion is invariably given to the Land Commission.
There is another aspect of this matter which may not occur to Deputies, that is, the question of forestry management. I know it would be nice, and possibly handy, for some local farmer to get a right of way across forestry property or, as has been sometimes put to me, to give a piece on the side of a hill to a local farmer which he considers arable by his standards and which he says he needs badly, and that this would do a particular job for him; but technically forestry cannot be managed in that patchwork way. There are many difficulties; there are trespass difficulties, questions of ingress and egress; and there is the fire hazard that arises if that practice is indulged in. Practically speaking, it is a practice that must be discouraged and resisted by the Forestry Division. I want to make that quite clear, while, at the same time, saying that where there is any sizeable portion of land taken in, the arable portion is handed over to the Land Commission where there is any question of local congestion.
Deputy MacCarthy also made the point that too many trees of the same variety are being planted. That, perhaps, was inevitable in our circumstances and particularly as certain types of pine, pinus contortus, and sitka spruce of certain species, are suited to our land and climate. It was also, I am sure, necessary for the Forestry Division to consider the economics of the matter and at least to establish something that would give a return in a reasonable time for the vast amount of money from the tax-payer that is invested in this business.
I agree, however, that we are in a position to take another look at the matter now and outside the question of amenity planting, my Department are considering, where suitable locations are available, the planting of some hardwoods. It is not, in fact, correct to state that hurleys have been forgotten. There have been ash plantations specifically to meet the demand by the people interested in having a supply of hurleys available. Indeed, more ash has been planted over the past few years than has been the case for a number of years. We are having another look at the feasibility of planting commercial hardwoods. The time of their return would of course be much longer but we shall now be in a position, considering the amount of the other species planted, to strike a reasonable national balance.
Deputy Dolan made a very interesting point in connection with the planting of mountain areas. He is of the view that the new fencing grants available from the Department of Agriculture may make it more difficult for my Department to get land in these areas. I feel that he has some logic in it and indeed I have already had the experience of people being reluctant to hand over to the Forestry Division land which they otherwise would hand over because there is now the possibility of fencing off their neighbour's sheep.
Let me make it clear that both sheep raising and afforestation have successfully gone hand in hand elsewhere. The Crofters Commission in Scotland have been particularly successful in this line of procedure. Deputy Dolan referred to this as strip planting but they have found in Scotland that in the mountainous areas where they have handed over suitable and strategically placed strips of that type of land to the Crofters Commission for afforestation and to the British Forestry Commission, the farmers or crofters concerned were able in some cases to quadruple the number of sheep they were able to run on these ranges, not-withstanding the decreased amount of run available.
Our people should take a lesson from what has been achieved there and I believe that if the grazing farmers in mountainous areas realise these possibilities, they will not fear the Forestry Division getting interested in their lands. Rather would they be inclined to co-operate because everything I have learned about this matter indicates that forestry in these areas will not alone be good for the Forestry Division but good also for the sheep grazers concerned.
In connection with the fears expressed by Deputy Leneghan about the planting of North Mayo, it is true that part of that county was rejected on grounds of exposure and unsuitability. It is also true that much is being and has been learned from the experimental station at Glenamoy and from the work going on at Neifin Beg Forest. It is now clear from the experiments in Glenamoy that there is reasonable hope of successful planting in some of the wild, windswept areas there and there are in fact places being considered for acquisition in that part of the country now that would have been turned down and would not have been considered a short ten years ago. There is still a very large potential for afforestation in that part of North Mayo, in the Erris area, and I am grateful for the Deputy's offer to cooperate in every way to get these large commonages into the acquisition machine of my Department. There are of course some areas on the exposed part of the coast and they, I feel, could not be planted at this time. Perhaps as time goes on and as the experiments at Glenamoy and Neifin Beg continue, the Department will be in a position to deal with these in some years to come because this is a matter about which nobody can prophesy. All the experts who were very rigid on these issues, as I have said a short ten years ago, have had to more or less eat their words, so that it is a question of the experience being gained from these experiments— wind exposure and exposure to the sea —and as the experiments progress, then more and more of the land now regarded as unplantable will, I believe, be planted.
Deputy P. Brennan referred to the question of nurseries. In former times there were in use small nurseries scattered throughout the country. Many of them were unsuitable according to modern technical requirements. The practice now is to endeavour to acquire suitable land of 50 or 60 acres or even more, land that would not only lend itself to mechanisation but would have the particular soil condition necessary for nurseries. I am advised by the technical men that it is not an easy thing to get land suitable for nurseries.
I should like Deputies to appreciate that today we need 35 million plants a year to deal with our 25,000-acre planting programme. That gives Deputies some idea of our nursery requirements. Planting on such a large scale requires not only an abundance of plants of the right type, but also species that are particularly suitable. We can no longer take a chance on setting poor and indifferent plants. That is why, in view of the magnitude of the programme, the nurseries have had to be reviewed and the best soil conditions and the most suitable nurseries provided.
It is regrettable that some of our nurseries have had to be closed down, particularly if it was not possible to absorb the men concerned into the local forestry centre. From my experience of the few cases with which I am familiar, I can say the men who were employed in the nurseries were absorbed into other work in the Forestry Division. However, I would like Deputies to appreciate the new requirements and how essential it is now, in view of the vast planting programme, that we would have the best type of plant produced in the conditions most suitable for our needs.
Deputy McQuillan raised a question about Cloonfad. This matter was brought to my notice during the past weeks. I happen to know the clergyman who is so vitally interested in forestry development. He comes from my own county. I have endeavoured to find out as best I can what substance there is in this complaint.
On this question of man versus machine I want to make it quite clear that there is no bias in my Department towards machinery. Indeed, the contrary is true. I have gone around to the different forestry centres and I have found that the foresters and the men on the spot, generally speaking, have a bias the other way and incline to the view, particularly in regard to drainage, that, depending on the terrain, a better job can be done by experienced men. Before dealing with this specific matter raised by Deputy McQuillan, I want to make it quite clear that there is not, in fact, a bias toward mechanisation generally in the Forestry Division.
As far as I can ascertain from the reports before me, which I carefully examined, the only plot concerned at Cloonfad, in regard to where this complaint about mechanisation was made, is in the townland of Cuilkeen. My report states that this plot comprises only 45 acres. Of that 45 acres, my technical advisers tell me, 37 acres must be mechanically ploughed or otherwise the ground would be completely unplantable. I am also informed that the remaining seven and a half or eight acres are capable of being worked by hand, but are, however, intermixed with the 45-acre plot. Therefore, if machines had to come in at all to deal with the preparation of 37 acres out of 45, it would be impossible for them to operate without dealing with the odd few acres remaining capable of manual working. If the assessment of the situation I have received is correct, even if the seven acres were manually dealt with, it would mean just one week's work for five men.
On the other hand, I know that of the total area planted in the Cloonfad area this year, it would have been quite impracticable to deal with two-thirds of it without mechanical ploughing. Generally speaking, mechanical ploughing is used only where essential, and I would like to kill this belief—it is not generally held but it is held in some quarters—that mechanical ploughing is being used by the Department solely for economic reasons and to oust manual labour. I am satisfied taking the whole picture that, but for mechanical ploughing, the labour force would now be substantially less than it is, because a large percentage of the land planted would be incapable of plantation but for mechanical ploughing.
That is the factual assessment of the complaint I received and which Deputy McQuillan voiced here. In case there could be any mistake I have directed a senior officer to have a look at the situation, the locus in quo to see if a wrong assessment could possibly have been made. Everybody is human and mistakes can be made, but I must say from my experience in my Department the assessments made by the men in the field who send in reports are generally correct.